By Ben Golliver
The man they call the "Polish Hammer" turned to one of his countrymen to slam his coach and Suns teammates for not including him in the offense. In an interview with Poland's Przeglad Sportowy, translated by GothicGinobili.com, Marcin Gortat called out Alvin Gentry for expecting him to lead the defense without rewarding him with touches on offense and took a shot at his teammates for not moving the ball well on the perimeter.
Coach Alvin Gentry told me that the main post option was Luis Scola. You, on the other hand, are number one on defense.
MG: Unfortunately... I've been doing the dirty work all my life, and now I have to come back to that. I will fight for what's mine. I'll try to prove to the coach that I can play an important role in the offence. Unfortunately, I don't think I'm even an option for Gentry. He doesn't even take me into consideration. The situation is critical. We're playing the same thing we've been playing last year, but the truth is we have a completely different set of players. I don't think it really works. I can't get frustrated now though, I have to stay positive.
The Suns have a lot of players that create for themselves.
MG: We have plenty of players who like to create for themselves, but it doesn't always work. We don't share the ball as much as we have in previous seasons. The ball doesn't move around the perimeter – it usually stops after one or two passes. You can't play like this, let alone win. Basketball is a team sport. Nobody ever won a game alone.
Did the coach honestly tell you what he expects from you?
MG: We've talked before the season started. He said he expects me to play defence, rebound, block shots and quarterback the defence. He also said he wanted me to set up in the paint and wait for my shots. And I'm still waiting... (laughter)
There are plenty of warning signs when it comes to locker room instability in the NBA. Dirty looks on the court. Finger pointing on defensive rotations. Tuning out during huddles. The next level up is the infamous "player's only meeting," where colleague-on-colleague screaming either irons out the issue or incinerates the relationships. On that same plane is a modern development: the "foreign player gripes to a foreign journalist and then waits for the quotes to hit Google translator" maneuver. This approach is a best of all worlds for the player: he can count on a friendly spin from the media, he knows his management and coaching staff will eventually hear his complaints, and he has a layer of plausible deniability with his teammates, because they aren't like to read the quotes in the paper over breakfast. "I was misquoted" or "something got lost in translation" loom as fallback excuses in case things do come to a head.
This is passive-aggressiveness in its purest form and it would be toxic to a winning team. On a losing outfit like the Suns, it's not surprising at all. You try rebounding on both ends and playing defense by yourself for 33 minutes while Michael Beasley jacks up 15 shots a game at a 36.2 percent clip and see how you like it.
Gortat's frustration is totally predictable, as he's in the ultimate let down year following a career year in 2011-12. Last season, Gortat posted career-best averages of 15.4 points, 10.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 32 minutes per game. He also played all 66 games in the lockout shortened season, getting almost 12 shots a night with the help of ace point guard Steve Nash. That breakout year came after three-plus years of playing less minutes than he was capable of handling behind All-Star center Dwight Howard in Orlando. He finally had his full-time opportunity, he took full advantage of it, and the Suns were somewhat competitive, making a playoff push late in the season before ultimately winding up just short.
This year is the fallout. Nash is gone to the Lakers, replaced by Goran Dragic who is a fine player but no Nash (there is no other Nash of course). Enter Beasley and his incessant chucking. Enter Scola and his need for the ball on offense. Lose Channing Frye for the season due to a heart condition. It's hard for an established player to win less and produce less. One or the other can be handled, but not both. This season, Gortat is taking two less shots per game and his scoring has dipped to 11.0 points per game and the Suns are destined for the lottery, even if their 4-7 record is actually outpacing expectations to date.
Phoenix's core group, in terms of their salary commitments, include Dragic, Gortat, Frye, Beasley, Scola and Jared Dudley. That's a disaster, a mismatched patchwork of veterans that don't complement each other particularly well and have very little long-term upside. Gortat, who is on the books for $7.3 million this season and $7.7 million next season, is the clearest asset of the group. The Suns would do well to trade Gortat at the deadline for good picks and an expiring contract. If he's this upset 11 games in, how will he handle the next 153 games? Frye, Beasley and Scola, in particular, would seem fairly difficult to move given the extended nature of their contracts. This thing needs to be torn down one brick at a time and ditching Gortat is the realistic first step.
Gentry, likewise, is a less-than-ideal match for this team, although there's really no ideal coach for such a strangely composed roster. Gentry is better suited to a veteran team with a chance to win a playoff series, the Suns from three or four years ago, for example. He can't be happy to read Gortat's complaints but he also can't be totally surprised. He surely knows he's been dealt a crummy hand and that the pieces just don't fit together. You try convincing Beasley to pass! Gentry's long-term prospects don't look particularly promising and the Suns currently have him coaching on a year-to-year basis. A full-scale rebuild is coming, whenever management finally realizes the mess it has created, and that usually means a change of direction on the bench. It's a bad sign when you're finding yourself hoping that a team's best player and its coach are both freed sooner rather than later.